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Can we work together, miss?

a guide to collaboration and collusion

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Defining the difference between collaboration (which is allowed) and collusion (which is not allowed) can sometimes be difficult:  what is acceptable in some circumstances may not be acceptable in others.  The definitions and examples below serve as guidelines.

Collaboration is when two or more students work together in ways acceptable to the teacher setting the assignment.  Much classwork is collaborative.  Collaboration may sometimes be acceptable outside the classroom.

Collusion is when two or more students work together in ways which are not acceptable to the teacher setting the assignment. Collusion is cheating and everyone involved may be liable to punishment.  This includes cases where one student allows his work to be copied by another student: both students are colluding and both will be punished.

One good rule of thumb:  is the student learning something?

  • if someone else is doing the work, the answer is NO.  This is collusion, and is not acceptable.

  • if the student, all students, are working together, then they may all be learning together.  This may be seen as collaboration.  Collaboration is allowed – except when the teacher has said that the work must be done by the student, working alone and without help.


These are examples of acceptable collaboration – unless the teacher has specifically instructed students that they must work alone:


These are examples of unacceptable collusion - even when the teacher has said that students may work together:

The teacher instructs students to work together in the science lab or on a research project, and produce a joint report.

In a group project, one student does all the writing and the others simply copy what the first has written.

A group of students brainstorm ideas for tackling an ethics essay.

Two or more students work together after the teacher has said they must work on their own.

A parent looks at her son’s homework and suggests that he should try breaking up the longer sentences into three or four shorter sentences.

A parent writes corrections on her son’s homework so that the student can write a fair copy of the corrected work.

A tutor looks at a student’s school essay, and says the student needs help with her verb agreements;  he gives the student a practice exercise to remind her of the rules.

A tutor writes an essay for one of his students which the student then gives to the teacher.

An elder brother suggests that a painting might look better with some trees in the background.

An elder brother paints some trees in the background of his sister’s painting.

A parent helps his son get the timing right on a piece of music he is practising.

A parent tells his child to harmonize a melody with specific chords in her composition homework. *

Brother and sister talk about a book and their reactions to one particular incident in the story.

Brother tells sister exactly what to write about her reactions to an incident in a story.

Two students discuss the questions they think might come up on tomorrow’s quiz, and together work out how they would answer them.

One student sits a test in the morning; over lunch, he discusses the questions with a friend who is going to take that same test in the afternoon.

A parent suggests a few organizations whose web sites might help his son deal with his Yearly Homework Project.

A parent does the research, and gives his son four web pages which contain the material he needs for a major section of his Yearly Homework Project.

Two students quiz each other on German vocabulary for tomorrow’s test.

One student does the odd number questions and a second does the even numbers, then they swap and share their answers.


One student lets his work be copied or photocopied by another student who then hands in a nearly identical assignment.

  * My thanks to Margaret Halıcıoğlu for providing this example.


Note: some of the examples of collusion might be classed as collaboration if the other person’s contribution is acknowledged, and if the teacher has said that outside help is acceptable.



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John Royce, BA, MLib, ALA
Library Director, Robert College
Arnavutköy, TR-34345 Istanbul, Turkey.

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It was last revised on 20 January 2007.